I Just Like You | a gay myth – Theatre503, London

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

Writer and Director: Zachary Wilcox

After meeting at a rave, two 30-year-old gay men go to bed, where they have to start the sort of negotiation that straight couples do not require.

Zachary Wilcox’s play I Just Like You | a gay myth uses the structure of a romantic comedy to examine the fluidity of gay relationships from sex partners to friends with benefits, to supportive friends. It asks something that distorts the classic question from When Harry Met Sally: can two gay men ever be sex buddies, without romance getting in the way?

In a raunch-filled 85 minutes, Conor Mainwaring’s Leo, coming out of a seven-year monogamous relationship and feeling in need of a period of no-strings relationships with multiple men, finds a connection with Pat (Chandler James), an insecure American whose current visa expires in a few months, and either needs to find a job that will sponsor him or a man to marry.

Mainwaring and James frequently strip down to their underwear, with arousal and sex between the two illustrated via the use of cushions across their crotches. And there are a lot of cushions in the set design (also by Wilcox), suggesting men who are surrounded by sexual possibility.

The progression of time is expressed best when scenes flow directly into one another, with one or other character’s viewpoint evolving in a moment, relying upon the actors to convey a period of time. Some WhatsApp conversations, projected onto the stage’s back wall to cover some larger scene gaps, struggle to come across partly because the black walls ensure that the text becomes illegible to all but a few.

Ultimately, though, they are unnecessary, because Wilcox’s dialogue covers all that is needed. Funny (and often hilarious) where needed, while also heartfelt, awkward, and passionate on demand, the pair of actors flesh out Wilcox’s writing to form portraits of two very different men drawn to each other even when they know they need something that the other can’t provide.

James’s doe-eyed romanticism makes for an effective contrast between the rough, hungry-for-sex attitude that Mainwaring brings to Leo. And yet, each character brings out traits in the other that illustrate them to be more well-rounded personas than one might at first believe.

There is some heavy-handed use of heartbeat sounds whenever one or other of the characters faces a moment of emotional turmoil. There also are some moments where the pair find themselves in similar situations in their ongoing cycle of moving between friends and sex partners where the dialogue shows repetitiveness in a way that doesn’t reflect the characters’ growth as people between this moment and the last. But in other moments, the cycle is emphasised well, most notably in the final scene, which holds a mirror up to the first.

At its best, the beating gay heart of I Just Like You illustrates the dilemmas in a culture where sex, friendship and romance are assumed to be separate, discrete components of a relationship. They never are; as with Leo and Pat, how we negotiate the balance of those elements is an ongoing, frustrating, beautiful mess.

Continues until 24 February 2024

The Reviews Hub Score

Sex-based rom-com with a gay heart

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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